Short Story #68: What's It Like Out There by Edmond Hamilton

Title:  What's It Like Out There

Author:  Edmond Hamilton

Summary

Damon Knight - A Century of Science Fiction
Sergeant Frank Haddon has returned from the third Mars expedition in which a significant number of crewmen died.  He made it back but not is faced with reaching out to families of crew-members he was friendly with.  He first visit's Joe's family and tells his parents that Joe died on take off but did so in a peaceful manner.  However, he flashes back to the actual event and the reader learns that it was anything but peaceful.  He moves on to Jim's family to explain that Jim had gotten the Martian sickness and despite receiving the best care, died.  In contrast to the story he tells the family, he again flashes back to show how little care Jim did get and eventually died in his bunk.  The final encounter is his two closest friends, Walt and Breck.  He eventually explains that they too died accidentally and without malice, but Frank in his head recounts the truth.  He explains that Walt has instigated a mutiny when things were looking particularly bad and Walt and Breck ultimately shot each other dead in the midst of the insurrection.  He returns home to parades and celebrations but it all feels hollow.  He wanders around and ponders while looking up into the sky why he lied and admits that he would never feel young again.

Reflection

This was a solid story.  The interweaving of past and present and the weight that sits upon Frank's story is felt throughout.  We can sense the deep struggle to tell the truth to the families and how Frank must wonder if the last memory of their child should be so dark and daunting.  After all, would the truth give the closure that the families needed?  It reminds me of the conversations we have in our culture over truth and is it ever ok not to be truthful.  

Short Story #68 out of 365
Rating: 4  (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3//8/2014
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. 

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.
 

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